D.W. Griffith Presents "The Birth of a Nation" Page: 12 of 20
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riddles of history. His position is the more difficult since those who most ardently
endeavor to relieve him of his burdens are peculiarly apt to increase them.
"The Birth of a Nation" presents many lovable negroes who win hearty applause
from the audiences. It presents also some exceedingly hateful negroes. But American
history has the same fault and there are bad whites also in this film as well as virtuous.
It is hard to see how such a drama could be composed without the struggle of evil
against good. Furthermore, it is to the advantage of the negro of today to know how
some of his ancestors misbehaved and why the prejudices in his path have grown there.
Surely no friend of his is to be turned into an enemy by this film, and no enemy more
"The Birth of a Nation" is a chronicle of human passion. It is true to fact and
thoroughly documented. It is in no sense an appeal to lynch-law. The suppression of
it would be a dangerous precedent in American dramatic art.
If the authors are never to make use of plots which might offend certain sects, sections,
professions, trades, races or political parties, then creative art is indeed in a sad
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" has had a long and influential career. Perhaps no book ever
written exerted such an effect on history. It was denounced with fury by the South as
a viciously unfair picture. It certainly stirred up feeling, and did more than perhaps
any other document to create and set in motion the invasion and destruction of the
southern aristocracy. Yet it was not suppressed because of its riot-provoking tendencies.
And it is well that it was not suppressed.
"The Birth of a Nation" has no such purpose. It is a picture of a former time.
All its phases are over and done, and most of the people of its time are in their graves.
But it is a brilliant, vivid, thrilling masterpiece of historical fiction. Thwarting its
prosperity would be a crime against creative art and a menace to its freedom. The
suppression of such fictional works has always been one of the chief instruments of
tyranny and one of the chief dangers of equality.
I saw the play first in a small projecting room with only half a dozen spectators
present. We sat mute and spellbound for three hours. When I learned that it had to
be materially condensed it seemed a pity to destroy one moment of it. The next time
I saw it was in a crowded theatre and it was accompanied by an almost incessant murmur
of approval and comment, roars of laughter, gasps of anxiety and outbursts of applause.
It was not silent drama so far as the audience was concerned.
The scene changed with the velocity of lightning, of thought. One moment we saw
a vast battlefield with the enemies like midgets in the big world, the next we saw some
small group filling the whole space with its personal drama; then just one or two faces
big with emotion. And always a story was being told with every device of suspense,
preparation, relief, development, and crisis.
I cannot imagine a human emotion that is not included somewhere in this story
from the biggest national psychology to the littlest whim of a petulant girl; from the
lowest depths of ruthless villainy to the utmost grandeur of patriotic ideal.
All of the seven wonders of the world were big things. I feel that David W. Griffith
has done a big thing and he has a right to the garlands as well as the other emoluments.
"The Birth of a Nation" is a work of epochal importance in a large and fruitful field of
social endeavor. In paying it this tribute of profound homage, I feel that I am doing
only my duty by American art, merely rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.
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Griffith, D.W. D.W. Griffith Presents "The Birth of a Nation", book, April 1, 1924; New York. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth21924/m1/12/: accessed June 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Public Library.